Nivida Bat Cave, Bocas del Toro – A Guide for Travellers

Nivida Bat Cave might not be the first attraction you think of when you imagine Panama’s dreamy Bocas del Toro archipelago. Yet, hidden in an unsuspecting corner of Bastimentos Island, there is a cavernous bat cave which offers real adventure, ideal for those looking for a break from Caribbean beaches.

If you want to explore Panama’s most famous bat cave, read on. This article will detail everything you need to know about planning your own visit to the cave, including what to wear and whether this attraction is suitable for those faint of heart! 

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A Guide to Nivida Bat Cave in Bocas del Toro, Panama

A Brief Introduction to Nivida Bat Cave 

Follow the Bahia Honda River through the mangroves and you will eventually reach Nivida Bat Cave in Bocas del Toro. Part of the Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimento, this protected area is largely managed by a local family, one of whom will be your guide when you visit the cave. 

Boat ride to cave
You have to take a boat to get to Panama’s most famous bat cave.

The cave itself is home to swarms of nectar bats which hang close to the entrance. If you don’t mind confined spaces and water, this makes for a quirky thing to do while you’re staying in Bocas! 

How to Visit Nivida Bat Cave

Nivida Bat Cave is pretty much impossible to visit independently. Owing to the location of the cave, you will need to make the journey by boat and many drivers will refuse to take you unless there are at least four passengers. With this in mind, it works out far easier to embark on a tour of the cave.

Sign for Bat Cave
It is pretty much impossible to visit the bat cave without a tour.

Tours are offered daily from both Bocas Town on Isla Colon and Isla Bastimentos, however, the minimum visitor requirement could mean that you might need to organise a group in order to visit. Tours usually cost around $40USD per person and in our case, included transport, rental of headlamps and water shoes, plus a guide (not English speaking). 

On our tour, the cave entrance fee was included in the overall tour cost but this isn’t always the case. Enquire beforehand to find out if you need to carry cash for the $10USD cave entrance fee. 

Hiking to bat cave
There is a short walk to the cave entrance.

What to Expect from Visiting Nivida Bat Cave

It takes around 25 minutes from the town of Old Bank to reach the dock for the Bat Cave. You’ll have to sign in at the house where you will meet your guide and get your headlamp and water shoes. From there, the hike to the mouth of the cave will take around 30 minutes.

During the hike, you have the opportunity to see dart frogs, sloths, ants and various other jungle wildlife so keep your eyes peeled! The hike is not particularly difficult but can be a bit slippery after rain. Be aware that you are likely to be wearing your water shoes to and from the cave – this adds an extra layer of challenge! 

Insect outside cave
If this is how terrifying the insects outside the cave are, what is waiting inside?!

There are two tunnels within Nivida Bat Cave of differing lengths. To trek to the end of the right tunnel will take between five and six hours. It is never visited on tours. Travellers visiting Panama’s bat cave on a tour will instead take the left tunnel which provides a shorter trek – around 40 minutes. You usually have around 15 minutes to spend at the swimming hole at the end. Here you can jump in from the rock above and swim around. Be aware, a lot of articles and tours will call this swimming hole a subterranean lake. Considering how small it is, this is quite a generous term! 

Entering Nivida bat cave
Waiting to enter Nivida Bat Cave with our guide.

Some of the cavern is pretty enclosed and therefore, this trip isn’t recommended for people who suffer from claustrophobia. In the main tunnels where the bats are present, the ceilings are fairly low so while you won’t be in danger of bumping your head (at least not in this first part of the cave), you may find that the bats fly quite low. This put me on edge and I am only 5′5″ – take this as your warning!

In addition to claustrophobia, the water level will change depending on recent weather. During my visit, the water came up to my chest, however, the guide said it can come up higher. If you’re not comfortable in the water, you may want to skip this tour. 

Bats inside cave
Thousands of bats call this cave home.

Good to know! If there has been too much rain over recent days, a visit here is deemed unsafe. In this instance, the tour won’t run. 

The water in the bat cave is not warm so you’ll need to prepare for the shock of the cold. While a wetsuit is not an essential item, you may want to wear one if you have one! I wore a bikini but if I had been travelling with a wetsuit, I would’ve worn that instead. 

Exploring the cave 2
A wetsuit is better for exploring the cave than normal swimwear.

There is a lot of bat guano inside the cave and as a result, the water is very dirty and the whole place smells pretty bad, especially close in the areas close to the entrance. For this reason, I would recommend leaving your best swimwear in your hotel and bringing a change of clothes for when you get out of the cave. I stank when I emerged and there was no way that I was going to wear my bikini again until it had been washed! 

Aside from bats, there is other wildlife which calls this cave home too. Our guide constantly joked about coming across a caiman (very unlikely) but we did see whip scorpions which were pretty scary. He also told us that spiders can be found inside the cavern, as well as other large insects. *Shudder*

Whip scorpion
A whip scorpion inside Nivida Bat Cave, Bocas del Toro.

Be aware that the cave is quite slippery underfoot, even when you’re wearing water shoes. The uneven surfaces underwater can make it hard to predict where to put your feet and makes slipping over very easy. As a result of this, a dry bag is recommended over a backpack. 

Note: There is a raised ledge where you can leave your bag prior to reaching the swimming hole at the end of the cave. 

What to Bring to Nivida Bat Cave

  • Swimsuit/wetsuit
  • Towel
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Reef friendly sunscreen
  • Change of clothes
  • Camera or phone (with waterproof cover) 
  • Dry bag

Depending on the tour you opt for, the rental of the following items may be included. If they are not, I recommend bringing them anyway. 

  • Head torch 
  • Water shoes
Leaving the cave
I was definitely relieved to escape the cave at the end!

While not the kind of activity you usually associate with a visit to Bocas del Toro, Nivida Bat Cave makes for a great day trip. The cave is still somewhat of a hidden gem, making a journey here feels like a real adventure. Although it isn’t the tightest cave network I’ve explored, I’d still say that this trip should be avoided by people who suffer from claustrophobia. If this is you, head to Starfish Beach instead! 

Have you visited the bat cave in Panama? Share your experience in the comments below!

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